Loss of Coast Zone Program Hurts Alaska's Beluga Whale Case

"Back in February, the Parnell administration told a judge that Cook Inlet beluga whales didn't need the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act because the state was perfectly capable of protecting them itself, in part because of the Alaska Coastal Management Program. But in a notice belatedly filed in the case Friday, the Alaska attorney general's office acknowledged the state had lost that conservation and enforcement tool four months ago."

"The program expired July 1 when the Alaska Legislature failed to renew it this year, first in its regular session and then in two special sessions.

The February assertion and Friday's notice were made in a lawsuit brought by the state in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking to overturn a federal agency's listing of belugas as endangered. The challenge, one of many pursued by Gov. Sean Parnell over environmental decisions by the federal government, sought to forestall potential restrictions on oil drilling and other development in Cook Inlet.

When the Legislature was meeting in Juneau earlier this year, Parnell was lukewarm to renewing the coastal zone management program, saying some versions in the Legislature would have set back development by giving too much power to local communities. When the program expired, Attorney General John Burns said the state had many other tools to influence federal decision making."

Richard Mauer reports for the Anchorage Daily News October 31, 2011.

Source: Anchorage Daily News, 11/01/2011